4 things you should know about online real estate listings

Online listing have transformed the way we shop for homes. While listing sites make the home buying process more convenient, they also have their flaws. Here are a few things you should know about listing sites before you buy a home.

The Listings Are Not Always Accurate

Criss-crossing the city to see a handful of properties is not the most efficient way to find your dream home. Which is why buyers love listing — they can provide a wealth of information at a quick glance. A typical listing will tell you the lot size, square footage, how many bedrooms, and the year the home was built, along with many other details. The problem is that this information isn’t always correct. You might spend an afternoon chasing down a prospective home, only to find out that an offer was accepted several days ago and it’s no longer on the market. Or you might find out during a tour that the square footage was listed incorrectly and the home is significantly smaller than you expected. When you’re house hunting, it’s important to ask questions, even if you think you know the answer. Don’t let the details in an online listing prevent you from performing your due-diligence.

There’s No Substitute for Actually Seeing a Home

The centerpiece of any home listing is the photo slideshow. Buyers will spend hours flicking through these pictures trying to find a place they can fall in love with. Real estate agents know how important these pictures are, and that’s why the best agents will hire a professional photographer to show off the property. They’ll use wide-angle lens to make the place feel spacious, studio lighting to make it bright, and color correction to give it vibrancy. But these photos can be misleading. As a buyer, you might waste a lot of time pursuing a looker that ends up being a dud in person. And by focusing all of your attention on the homes with the best looking pictures, you might end up missing a great deal on a property that didn’t invest in a good photographer.

The Price Isn’t Right

Online tools have made life easier for real estate agents. Buyers today are better informed and better able to explain what they are looking for. But these sites can also drive agents crazy, especially when they feed buyers and sellers wrong information. Many sites provide an online estimate of a property’s value, which they base on recent sales data and tax assessments. Unfortunately, these estimates are often inaccurate, especially when they fail to take into account things like a major remodel or recent fluctuations in neighborhood real estate prices. Despite the inaccuracy, sellers can get attached to these estimates, and refuse to budge on price, even if a weak housing market tells them otherwise. On the other hand, buyers who rely on this figure might put in a lowball offer that wastes everyone’s time. If you’re a homeowner and you feel like the current estimate is too low, you can reach out to companies like Zillow and Redfin to correct the facts about your home in order to improve the company’s estimated price. And if you’re a buyer, keep in mind that these are just estimates — the market will decide what the home is worth.

Real Estate Isn’t Easy

Online listings lure people into thinking that real estate is easy. But buying a home is not like ordering a new pair of shoes off of Zappos. It’s hard work. Sure, you can spend your days looking at listings, and your weekends visiting open houses, but finding the right place to live is just a small part of the process. You’ll need to come up with a downpayment, get pre-approved for a mortgage, find an agent that you can work with, fill out stacks of paperwork, get a home inspection, and finally close on the home. Checking the online listings during your lunch break is a fine way to kick off the process, but once you’ve made the decision to actually buy a home, be ready to treat it like a full-time job for the next several months.